Early County's Antonio Jackson intercepts a pass in front of Thomasville wide receiver Javier McGriff as Demetrius Lewis looks on Friday night at Veterans Memorial Stadium. (Thomasville Times Enterprise/Special to The Herald)
By Mark Lastinger
Thomasville Times Enterprise
THOMASVILLE — Coach Leroy Ryals didn’t get the start he wanted, but he certainly liked the finish.
After being held scoreless for nearly three quarters Friday night, Ryals’ Thomasville Bulldogs tallied touchdowns on their final three possessions to beat Early County 21-6 in a key Region 1-AA game at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
Ryals entered the game concerned about the Bulldogs’ propensity for sluggish early play. Last week, they fell behind 13-0 against Berrien before rallying for a 35-13 victory.
“I think (one of the reasons for the slow start this time) had something to do with who we were playing,” Ryals said. “Early County is pretty good, especially defensively. I think they are pretty stout.”
The Bobcats (3-4, 1-2) held the Bulldogs (5-2, 3-1) to just 62 yards on 13 first-half snaps. Thomasville had eight plays on the Early County side of midfield but was undone by an interception at the goal line and a fumble.
Its lone scoring threat resulted in a missed field goal.
“We got inside the red zone a couple of times and made a couple of bonehead mistakes,” Ryals said. “Defensively, though, I thought we got off to a good start.”
Early County only gained 84 yards in the first half. Quarterback Miles Norman was consistently corralled in the backfield and the Bobcats lost 31 yards on the final play when a the ball sailed over punter Gerald Tolbert’s head.
“Our defense had one series where it didn’t play well, but the players bowed their necks after that,” Ryals said.
The Bulldogs’ line ineffective defensive stretch came during the opening possession of the second half when the Bobcats drove 56 yards in eight plays for their only score. The march, which ended with a 2-yard run by Jatavis Lyles, was bolstered by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that advanced the ball to the Thomasville 27.
After Lyles’ touchdown, however, Early County went three straight possessions without gaining a first down. They didn’t earn a fresh set of downs until there was less than a minute left in the game.
Lewis King, Ezekial Jones and Edward Anderson logged sacks during the defensive frenzy.
After receiving a partially blocked punt at the Bobcats’ 49, Thomasville’s offense finally got untracked. It scored six plays later when Payton Dixon completed his first pass of the game, a 37-yarder to Mario Cherry. Cherry slipped out of backfield virtually unnoticed along the visiting sideline on the final play of the third period.
“We had that play open on the series before,” Ryals said. “Payton saw it the second time.”
Cherry scored on the ground on Thomasville’s next series, capping a 44-yard push with a 21-yard dash up the middle with seven minutes left. He tallied the game-icing touchdown from five yards out with 56 seconds left.
Thomasville finished with 225 total yards. Cherry, assisted by the blocking of Allen Robinson, Ryan Bush, Matthew Huddleston, Trey Choice and Bryan Kato, amassed 162 on the ground on 24 attempts.
The Bobcats finished with 115 total yards.
Thomasville is off next week. It will return to action on Nov. 1 at home against Fitzgerald.